As major international sports events take over Abu Dhabi, it’s a chance to see the world’s best in action and test your own sporting prowess
It may be new to the sport’s international calendar, but Abu Dhabi’s premier cycling event has already made impressive strides towards global recognition.
After successful outings in 2015 and 2016, Abu Dhabi Tour has been upgraded to feature alongside the most prestigious cycling events in the world as part of the 2017 UCI World Tour.
The event in Abu Dhabi was initially held as part of the UCI Asia Tour but was chosen last year as one of ten races to be included in the newly expanded 37-stop World Tour.
The Abu Dhabi Tour is now one of four stage races to take place outside of Europe, alongside Australia, China and the US.
A total of 16 out of the 18 World Tour teams, including Team Dimension Data, Team Sky, Lotto Soudal and Astana Pro Team, will take on the increased 672km event, tackling three sprints and one climbing stage.
In a spin
Cycling is unique in that racers are ranked on an individual basis, however teams make tactical decisions together for the benefit of the group like allowing the team leader to break away for the final sprint to win the race.
Even if you’re new to the sport, the Abu Dhabi Tour is a unique opportunity to get clued up and see the best riders up close.
Last year’s tour winner, Astana team member Tanel Kangert, told Abu Dhabi World the race is a special destination for both cyclists and fans.
“The Abu Dhabi Tour now has a firm place in the racing calendar and it
attracts the biggest names in our sport to the UAE to compete.
“It’s the closest you can get to the big names of our sport. If you go to see the Tour de France then you will probably not get to see your idols nearly as close as you can here in Abu Dhabi.”
So what’s in store for the riders?
First up is the Madinat Zayed stage on 23rd February, when riders take to the desert for two 45km sprints, with a challenging dune-climbing course at Liwa in the middle.
Giacomo Nizzolo won the stage last year in a powerful sprint holding off John Degenkolb and event ambassador Mark Cavendish to win in the last 150 metres.
Next it’s the Nation Towers stage on 24th, which starts on Reem Island before heading along the Corniche, looping past Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, through Yas and Saadiyat Islands and finishing near the Corniche breakwater.
Cavendish won this stage last year after coming out in front in an exciting bunch sprint featuring 70 riders, taking the overall lead from Nizzolo by four seconds.
On day three, riders head to Al Ain where, after looping the city, they’re faced with a gruelling climb up Jebel Hafeet. The winner of this stage has historically gone on to win the overall classification as Kangert did last year.
Bringing the event to a close on the 26th, the peloton tackles 26 laps of the 5.5km Yas Marina Circuit with three intermediate sprints on laps 11, 16 and 21.
Cavendish also won this stage last year, showing his impressive sprinting ability in what cycling legend Vincenzo Nibali described as “truly spectacular”.
So what prizes are on offer for the best riders? Up for grabs are four jerseys making up the colours of the UAE flag.
The most prestigious is the red, awarded to the leader of general classification by time. Green is given to the leader by points, white to the best young rider and black to the leader of the intermediate sprint classification.
Ones to watch
Some of the best riders in the world will compete this year so each rider will have to fight to come out on top.
Among those who could take home the red jersey are previous Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España winner Nairo Quintana; Tour de France 2016 runner-up Romain Bardet and the previous Giro d’Italia winner Nibali, who represent Movistar Team, AG2R La Mondiale and Bahrain-Merida teams, respectively. Tanel’s teammate Fabio Aru is another contender, but it all comes down to performance across the four stages.
As for sprinters, Cavendish; Orica-Scott’s up-and-coming Aussie star Caleb Ewan and German duo Marcel Kittel and André ‘the gorilla’ Greipel all have a chance of scooping the black jersey.
This year, the UAE Abu Dhabi team will compete on the UCI World Tour, demonstrating the progress made by the country to join the elite in world sport.
The team includes experienced cyclists Rui Costa; three-time winner of Tour de Suisse Italian Marco Marcato and 2016 Vuelta a Andalucía winner Ben Swift, as well as a roster of young riders from Italy, Slovenia and Morocco.
Confident about the future of cycling in the UAE, local group Yas Cycles’ COO and former pro Johnny Macharis expects big things from the team.
“I think we can expect to see the UAE Abu Dhabi team to start making a big name for themselves this year,” he says.
“There’s a lot of great experience in the team partnered with youngsters who are up-and-coming and I think they’re going to do very well.”
Doing your part
If you’re feeling inspired by the pros and want to show your competitive side, you can take part in the Abu Dhabi Tour Challenge.
On 21st February, a knockout race will see riders complete a lap of Yas Marina Circuit in a set time that will be reduced after each lap to eliminate the slowest.
Self-proclaimed king of the circuit, Cavendish offers some advice for participants: “It’s important to relax before: you need every bit of energy.
“Get as low as possible, settle in to the rhythm and keep your fastest line.”
Sound easy? There’s only one way to prove it.
Where to watch?
Roads will be closed during the event but there are plenty of vantage points.
For stage one try the public park in Madinat Zayed where you can see the sprinters push towards the first win of the tour.
In the capital stage, the Corniche is one of the best positions as riders set off on the lap of the city and return for the final push.
In Al Ain there’s only one place to be: Jebel Hafeet.
On the final day, head to Yas Marina Circuit to find out who’ll be taking home a jersey.
You can also watch the action live at the official fan zone at Nation Towers from 17th to 23rd February with entertainment for the whole family.
Visit abudhabitour.com for more information.
If you’re looking for more sporting events to sign up for click here, or to hear what it takes to be ITU World Champion read our interview with Flora Duffy here